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News: Short film showcases productive mudflats

A short film about the importance of the remarkable invertebrates that live in the mudflats of Roebuck Bay and Eighty Mile Beach will be aired for the first time at the 2017 Mud and Saltwater Short Film Fest on 5 August.

Roebuck Bay Working Group (RBWG) Program Manager Kandy Curran said the film is impressive, with extraordinary aerial footage of the migratory shorebirds feeding on the animals in the productive mudflats.

“Close ups of the worms, crustaceans and bivalves the shorebirds feed on are wonderful, as are the legs of volunteers descending into the soft mud!” she said.

For migratory shorebirds, these invertebrates are the superfood to fuel their remarkable 10,000 kilometre annual migration to the northern hemisphere, where shortly after arrival in the Arctic, they will mate and produce a clutch of eggs.

These two Ramsar listed wetlands were part of a major ‘benthic’ expedition in October 2016 that involved a team of 100 including, scientists, landowners, ranger groups (Yawuru, Karajarri and Nyangumarta) and volunteers.

The impetus was to conduct repeat surveys of the benthic invertebrates at the two internationally important mudflats, to discover if and how benthos abundance, diversity and distribution has changed.

“Whilst the young and the brave ventured onto the mud to collect samples—supported in the deep soft mud by a hovercraft—others preferred to sort samples in the air-conditioned laboratory at the Broome Bird Observatory,” Ms Curran said.

To take advantage of such an event, the Roebuck Bay Working Group (RBWG) commissioned acclaimed filmmaker Paul Bell, to make a short film about the importance of the remarkable invertebrates that live in the mudflats.

Filmmaker Paul Bell said filming the many creatures of the mud gave me a chance to spend time observing the whole system at work.

“Sometimes that meant lying in the mud for hours on end to finally get the shot of a worm or tiny crab, but there is something mediative about just sitting or lying in this case and watching. The massive tides come and go twice a day and there is continual change happening.”

Mr Bell said the data that the team collected during the study will go a long way to preserving this asset into the future.

“This has made me appreciate what’s out there even more,” Mr Bell said.

The information gathered from the 2016 benthos expedition is essential for informed management of these immensely valuable wetlands for migratory shorebirds, as they come under growing pressure from human interference on the East Asian Australasian Flyway, particularly on their staging grounds on the Yellow Sea in China.

The expedition team at Eighty Mile Beach © Grant Pearson

In October 1999, almost the entire intertidal area of Eighty Mile Beach was ‘benthically’ mapped, whilst the benthos of the northern mudflats of Roebuck Bay was mapped in 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2006.

Ms Curran said the authors of the Field Report (Piersma, Pearson et al) recommend that the WA Government apply for World Heritage Status for the joint marine reserves of Eight Mile Beach and Roebuck Bay.

The film will be shown at the 2017 Mud and Saltwater Short Film Fest on 5 August 2017 (at the Mangrove Hotel, Broome), on Sun Pictures in Broome, at schools and on social media.

The expedition was funded by the Parks and Wildlife in partnership with BHP Billiton, with in kind support from NIOZ and Wetland Research and Management. The short film, was made by Paul Bell from Feral Films  and funded by State NRM through the Royalties for Regions program.

Photo (Top): Scientists and volunteers monitoring benthos on Roebuck Bay ©Kandy Curran